www.brichto.com: the home of Sidney Brichto's translations, books and articles

3 May 2000 by Mary Kenny

Why the Bible can stand a little sexiness

Rabbi Brichto's new version of the Good Book is nothing to fear

The Bible is not just a holy book. It is a building-block of the English language and an interna-tionally understood repository of symbols and metaphors - think of the dove of peace, which comes to us from the story of Noah's ark. We use biblical phrases all the time - the salt of the Earth, pearls before swine, the sheep from the goats, the mark of Cain, my brother's keeper, the fat of the land, by the skin of their teeth, the writing on the wall, suffer fools gladly and physician, heal thyself.

The British have a particular attach-ment to the Bible because, after the inven-tion of printing and the Protestant revolu-tion, it played such a vital part in the devel-opment of English literature - English writers were shaped and nourished by the extraordinary language of the traditional Bible. Even committed atheists leap to defend the Authorised Version of the English Bible when it seems threatened with replacement or extinction. Who,after all, could accept with equanimity the banality of "Jesus burst into tears" for the time-honoured phrase "Jesus wept"?

So yet another new translation, which promises to jazz up the old Holy Scripture, add a few sexy bits and render some of the stories into more accessible language, is bound to be controversial. If Rabbi Sidney Brichto receives a few brickbats for taking liberties with his new People's Bible, he will have to recognise that he asked for it. This is a sacred text, both in the religious and the aesthetic sense. But his objective is sincere. He wants to see people reading the Bible while sitting on the train, as they might read any other paperback book.

And he wants to introduce a little more interpretation. Bible stories, in the origi-nal, are often told with quite remarkable starkness and simplicity: Rabbi Brichto wants to add a touch of modern novelisa-tion by imagining what the characters might be thinking at the time. The Rabbi seeks to put flesh on the bare bones of the stories: he couldn't resist, he says, cre-ating a love scene between David and Bathsheba, and between Esther and Xerxes. He also wonders what Ruth must have been thinking when Naomi, her mother-in-law, sent her to seduce the drunken Boaz. Biblical purists will be - indeed they are already - offended and have rebuffed this new People's Bible (although the whole work is not yet complete). They don't like the fact that Sidney Brichto seems to have demoted Jesus by not refer-ring to him as "the Christ" - he says that Christ is not a correct translation of the original Greek or the Hebrew. And he has expunged "angels" and replaced them with "messengers".

This may indeed be a more exact trans-lation of the Greek "angelos", but it sure is a lot less poetic. "The messenger of the Lord appeared unto Mary" sounds rather more like an errand-boy sent around by the local shop and a lot less like the divine Annunciation paintings.

Yet from what I have seen of Rabbi Brichto's new People's Bible, I don't find anything particularly objectionable about the way he has chosen to rephrase, and sometimes embroider, the text. The Bible is a rich source and it is bound to be re-worked and re-interpreted in every age. His version of the Creation in Genesis is generally straightforward and, by the way, feminists might like to note, just as patri-archal as the Authorised Version: Eve still emerges from Adam's rib, still takes the blame for the Fall and is still told: "In pain you will bear children." Mind you, Rabbi Brichto likes to introduce a sexy note whenever he can, and he does have God say to Eve: "You will sexually desire your husband, and he will be your master."
I can't quite find the equivalent in the Authorised Version: maybe Rabbi Sidney is doing just the tiniest Woody Allenish improvisation on God's thoughts here.

But if there are innovations and variations - the Bible is big enough to take it. It is a great book, which survives all attempts to rework it. And it may be that Sidney Brichto's version will - as he hopes - arouse ordi-nary people's interest in the stories, and send them looking up the more traditional versions, especially those which contain beautiful, inspiring and poetic language.

I hope so. In the great arguments of Science versus Theology, what Theology has on its side is beauty and grandeur. No mere scientific account of the Creation can compete with the opening words of Genesis. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth... And God said, Let there be light." How can you improve on that? You can't.

www.brichto.com: the home of Sidney Brichto's translations, books and articles